Five alleged al-Qaeda conspirators accused of aiding the 9/11 hijackers all say they were tortured for years while in CIA custody, but sitting in a military courtroom on Monday, they all heard a judge insist that “torture” is not “relevant” to their cases.
Critics of the Bush administration’s torture program have long argued that it could taint prosecutions with evidence obtained under duress, which is exactly what defense attorneys have argued on behalf of defendants Walid bin Attash, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, and alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
In an exchange captured by Reuters, Army Col. James Pohl, the judge in the military tribunal, curtly refused a motion by Mohammed’s attorney, Air Force Cpt. Michael Schwartz, who argued that his client’s experience being tortured must be discussed.
“We have to talk about torture,” Schwartz said.
“No we don’t,” the judge replied.
“I think we do,” Schwartz said.
“I’m telling you I don’t think that’s relevant to this issue. That’s the end of that,” Pohl snapped.
When Schwartz persisted, Pohl said angrily, “Are you having trouble hearing me? Move on to something else!”
Mohammed’s attorneys revealed earlier this year that they’d requested a United Nations investigation into his treatment, alleging that his confession came after one of more than 180 documented waterboarding sessions that were filmed, although that footage was later said to have been destroyed.
Mohammed allegedly admitted that he helped plan the attacks after being kept awake for seven and a half days straight, according to José Rodriguez Jr., a former CIA agent whose recently published book, “Hard Measures,” advocates torture.
Col. Pohl ultimately ruled that the defendants would be allowed to boycott their trial, which could result in the death penalty, but they’re required to sign a form for every day of court they miss, acknowledging that they understand the potential consequences.
Only two of the defendants, Ramzi Binalshibh and Walid bin Attash, appeared in court on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. “I don’t think there is any justice in this court,” Mohammed reportedly said.
After a brief investigation, the Obama administration took a pass on prosecuting officials over the Bush administration’s torture program. As one of his first orders of business in 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning torture techniques popularized by the Bush administration, although Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said last year that he would return to “enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now.”
Despite efforts to resettle many of the Bush-era military detainees abroad, Obama’s campaign promise of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison remains unfulfilled.
Photo: Lilac Mountain / Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.